Midnight on the Ocean and Other Nonsensical Songs, by Stewart Hendrickson

Silver Threads Among the Gold, copyrighted in 1873, was a popular song in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The lyrics are by Eben E. Rexford, and the music by Hart Pease Danks: “Darling I am growing old/ Silver threads among the gold/ Shine upon my brow today/ Life is fading fast away.” It was recorded by Richard Jose in 1903, and later by Bing Crosby in 1948. A beautiful but very sentimental song, it was destined to be the tune for many silly nonsensical parodies throughout the early to mid twentieth century.

The song was parodied as…

IN THE BOARDING HOUSE

In the boarding house where I live,
Ev’rything is growing old,
Silver threads are on the butter,
All the bread is growing mold;
When the dog died,
We had sausage,
When the cat died,
Catnip tea,
When the landlord died I left there,
Spareribs were too much for me

and MIDNIGHT ON THE OCEAN

It was midnight on the ocean, not a streetcar was in sight.
While the sun was shining brightly, for it had rained all the night.
‘Twas a summer’s day in winter, and the rain was snowing fast,
As the barefoot boy with shoes on stood there sitting in the grass.

It was evening and the sunrise was setting in the west,
And the fishies in the tree-tops were all cuddled in their nests.
As the wind was blowing bubbles, lightning shot from left to right.
Everything that you should see had been hidden out of sight.

While the organ peeled potatoes, lard was rendered by the choir.
When the sexton rang the dish rag, someone set the church on fire.
“Holy smoke!” the preacher shouted, as he madly tore his hair,
Now his head resembles heaven, for there is no parting there.

It is hard to know when these verses originated, but many date back to at least 1928, if not earlier, when Harry “Mac” McClintock recorded this song, albeit to a different tune, as Ain’t We Crazy. Many versions are discussed on Mudcat.

I learned these songs in the 1950s from Song Fest (by Dick and Beth Best, published by the Intercollegiate Outing Club Assoc.), which goes back to 1948. There are other nonsensical songs in that book, a treasure-trove of songs popular with college students in the 1940s and ‘50s. Here are some other such songs.

BE KIND TO YOUR WEB-FOOTED FRIENDS, to the tune, Stars and Stripes Forever. An early reference goes back to ca. 1942 on a Fred Allen radio show, sung, with feeling, by Portland Hoffa. A couple of weeks later, a less successful variant was aired: Be kind to the jackass and the donkey and the mule, Remember, Brooklyn is also a burro. See the Mudcat forum. Also recorded by Peter and Mary in 1954: Be Kind To Your Web-Footed Friends –  Crazy Mixed Up Song.

Be kind to your web-footed friends
For a duck may be somebody’s mother
Be kind to the denizens of the swamp
Where the weather is always damp.

Be kind to you old umbrella
For some day it may be under the weather
Be kind to your old pair of shoes…

Be kind to your fur-bearing friends
For a skunk may be somebody’s brother
Be kind to your friends with the stripe…

Be kind to your flat-footed friends
For a cop may be somebody’s brother
Be kind to your friends on the beat…

You may think that this is the end,
Well, it is!

GO GET THE AXE (aka PEEPIN’ THROUGH THE KNOT-HOLE)
“A bob-haired blond girl with a dirty face stood on a downtown street corner in Chicago singing this song, she wore green goggles and held out a tin cup to passers-by, she was being initiated … We have heard the piece sung and giggled … As to gigglers we quote Cherubini, ‘The only thing worse than one flute is two flutes.’” Carl Sandburg, The American Songbag, 1927. Here it’s sung by The Homestead Pickers.

Peepin’ through the knot-hole of grandpa’s wooden leg
Who’ll wind the clock when I am gone?
Go get the ax, there’s a flea in Lizzie’s ear,
For a boy’s best friend is his mother.

Peepin’ through the knot-hole of Grandpa’s wooden leg
Why do they build the shore so near the ocean?
Who cut the sleeves out of dear old daddy’s vest
And dug up Fido’s bones to build the sewer.

A horsey stood around with his feet upon the ground
Oh who will wind the clock when I am gone?
Go get the ax, there’s a fly on Lizzie’s ear
But a boy’s best friend is his mother.

I fell from a window, a second-story window,
I caught my eyebrow on the window-sill
The cellar is behind the door, Mary’s room is behind the ax,
But a boy’s best friend is his mother.

And other verses:

While looking out the window, a second story window,
I slipped and sprained my eyebrow on the pavement, the pavement,
Go get the Listerine, sister has a beau,
Who cut the sleeves off father’s vest, his vest.

While walking in the moonlight, the bright and sunny moonlight,
She kissed me in the eye with a tomato, tomato,
We feed the baby garlic so we can find him in the dark,
An onion is a husky vegetable, a table.

She spanked him with a shingle, and made his panties tingle,
Because he socked his little baby brother, his brother,
A snake’s belt slips, because he has no hips,
And he wears his necktie round his middle, his middle.

While looking out the window, a second story window,
I slipped and sprained my eyebrow on the pavement, the pavement,
Go get the Listerine, sister has a beau,
Who cut the sleeves off father’s vest, his vest.

A-peeking through the knothole, in grandpa’s wooden leg,
Oh who has built the shore so near the ocean, the ocean,
Go get the alcohol, Willy wants a drink,
Grandma’s false teeth will soon fit baby, fit baby.

Do you know these songs? Have you heard them before? There may be a new generation of kids and not-so-old adults who don’t know these songs. They’re part of our folklore and should be passed on. Stewart Hendrickson

One thought on “Midnight on the Ocean and Other Nonsensical Songs, by Stewart Hendrickson”

  1. Some I had never heard, but the ones I knew I hadn’t heard in years. Thanks.
    Also for the rest of this “issue.” Of course I puddled a bit on the Celtic performances and so for the bagpipes.

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